FLORENCE, Italy -- More than two years after Amanda Knox returned to the United States, apparently home free, an Italian court reinstated her murder conviction Thursday in the stabbing of her roommate and increased her sentence to 281/2 years in prison, raising the specter of a long, drawn-out extradition fight.
Knox, 26, received word of the verdict in her hometown of Seattle. The American former exchange student called it unjust and said she was "frightened and saddened." In a statement, she said: "This has gotten out of hand. Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system."
Lawyers for Knox and her 29-year-old ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, who was also found guilty, vowed to appeal to Italy's highest court -- a process that will take at least another year and drag out a seesaw legal battle that has fascinated court-watchers on both sides of the Atlantic.
After nearly 12 hours of deliberations Thursday, the appeals court in Florence reinstated the guilty verdicts first handed down against Knox and Sollecito in 2009 for the slaying of British exchange student Meredith Kercher. Those verdicts had been overturned in a second trial that ended in an acquittal in 2011, and Knox was released from prison after four years behind bars, returning to the United States. But Italy's highest court ordered a third trial.
The Florence court in its verdict increased Knox's sentence from the original 26 years and handed Sollecito 25 years.
Kercher, 21, was found dead Nov. 2, 2007, in a pool of blood in the bedroom of the apartment she and Knox shared in the central Italian city of Perugia, where both were studying. Her throat had been slit, and she had been sexually assaulted. Knox and Sollecito denied any involvement in the killing, insisting that they were at Sollecito's apartment that night, smoking marijuana, watching a movie and making love.
Prosecutors originally argued that Kercher was killed in a drug-fueled sex game gone awry -- an accusation that gave the case a lurid cast that fascinated the European tabloids and led to headlines about "Foxy Knoxy" and her sex life. But at the third trial, prosecutors argued instead that the violence stemmed from arguments between roommates Knox and Kercher about cleanliness and was triggered by a toilet left unflushed by the case's third defendant, Rudy Guede. Guede, who is from the Ivory Coast, was convicted in a separate trial and is serving a 16-year sentence for the murder.
Legal experts have said it is unlikely that Italy will request Knox's extradition before the verdict is final. If the conviction is upheld, a lengthy extradition process will probably ensue, with the U.S. State Department ultimately deciding whether to turn Knox back over to Italian authorities to serve her sentence. Her lawyers are likely to argue that she is the victim of double jeopardy, because she was retried after an acquittal.
"Many Americans are quite astonished by the ups and downs in this case," said former federal prosecutor Mary Fan, who teaches at the University of Washington Law School in Seattle. But Ms. Fan said U.S. courts have previously held that being acquitted and then convicted of a crime in another country is not a legal bar to extradition.
In his closing arguments, Knox's lawyer, Dalla Vedova, had told the court that he was "serene" about the verdict, because he believed that the only conclusion from the files was "the innocence of Amanda Knox."
The first trial court found Knox and Sollecito guilty of murder and sexual assault based on evidence that included DNA and confused alibis. But the DNA evidence was later deemed unreliable by new experts.